Bacon is all the rage in the Pastry Kitchens these days. No self-respecting pastry chef hasn’t come up with (or copied) a bacon dessert: caramelized bacon, bacon brulee, chocolate and bacon. Sounds gross no? Well, the jury is still out on this one and, this being a trend, it will go away as swiftly as it came.
Sometimes pushing the envelope creates god awful combinations but, without experimentation, other great flavor pairings would never come to light. When I first started working, our Executive Chef at the time was enamored with Strawberry Basil Sorbet and, indeed, it was refreshing with the pungency of the basil cutting through the acidity and sweetness of the strawberry (to achieve it, steep basil in the simple syrup that is added to the strawberry puree prior to spinning it in the ice-cream maker).
Speaking of sorbets, I was moved to come up with a balsamic vinegar sorbet once, which sounds unappealing but, when served with foie gras it suddenly worked- and before you start stoning me, this was a long time ago and I wouldn’t eat foie gras anymore as much as I like it.
It can be ethnic food that makes you look at ingredients differently. An innocuous jaunt inside a Cuban Bakery on Venice Boulevard introduced me to the Cuban cheesecake (it’s actually a flour cake with cheese baked in the mixture). But it was the cream cheese and guava paste turnovers that opened a floodgate in my palate. Guavas don’t really grow in Southern California, they need the humidity of South America, Hawaii and South east Asia. The fruit is so fragrant that, walking among guava trees, can be a heady experience. The pulp can veer from extremely sour to sweet and when it hits the right balance the progression from sour to sweet in the mouth is thrilling.
The turnover I tasted at the Cuban Bakery was transformed on the plate into a Guava Cake with Cream Cheese frosting, to this day still one of my favourite flavour combinations which I wouldn’t have naturally picked had I not been walking along Venice Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon. Which is why, these days, I am game for tasting anything odd sounding before passing judgement. Nearly everything. Apparently, in London’s Covent Garden an ice cream parlour serves $25 a scoop of Mother’s Milk ice cream – yes made with milk from lactating women. A customer described it as “creamier and not really milk tasting”. Not sure about that one – I took my last sip over 40 years ago and cows have served me well thus far. Should I find myself in London some time soon, this might not be at the top of my list.
And what odd combinations have you come across lately?